No one does anything new in an emergency, there’s no magic bullet, and clicking your heels together 3 times won’t do more than provide counterpoint to the sound of steel screeching along a poorly approached and perhaps rapidly splintering berth.
It’s not the easiest thing to do and it shouldn’t be. The skills required to safely pilot a tug and tow take a good deal of time to acquire under the best of circumstances. Among the many difficulties the wheelhouse hopeful may encounter while attempting this endeavor is finding the means to get on as many different towing vessels as possible to become familiar, and if possible, fluent in their operational procedures. It can take as little as 2 years to as long as 5 years depending on the availabilities of openings for a trainee. In spite of all the wishing and hoping, the one thing that can’t be done at this point is specialize the T.O.A.R. to allow a limited towing endorsement with regard to AT/B’s.
This is not what I would consider a bad thing. The idea for completing a T.O.A.R. is to prove that one is capable of safely performing ALL the skills that will get the job done right. The idea of creating a limited ticket for AT/B’s is abhorrent to me since I believe there isn’t any particular value in learning half the job. The skills that may be drawn upon during an AT/B’s operation are no different than any conventional tug and barge. Eventually, there will be a need to draw on a skill-set not normally utilized in the day to day operations of an AT/B and the operator will need to be able to perform that evolution. We’re not necessarily paid for what we do, we’re paid for what we CAN do.
If a limited T.O.A.R. is created, there will be little motivation for including the skill-sets beyond standing a sea watch, tuning the radar, and utilizing an assist boat at every turn. The shortage of qualified people is not a good, or an especially prudent reason to “dumb down” the standard.
The experience one accrues during their training period is just the tip of the professional iceberg when it comes to the next phase of their career. The completed T.O.A.R. means you’ve met the minimum requirements to be allowed to stand a watch, it’s a milestone not the end of the road. It’s your diploma and your ticket to the rest of your career. Whether you’re an ace or just scraping by with the bare minimum, you’re going to get the same endorsement. Once the requirements are met, one’s skills need to be tempered with time and experience. Half-measures are not what’s called for when you’re earning this credential.
The sheer lunacy and end result of the limited endorsement idea is that it creates an operator that will be the half-baked version of his colleagues on traditional tugboats. It is guaranteed that he will be ill-equipped when the time comes that he’ll need to draw on a bag of tricks in an emergency and not have at his beck and call the necessary experience, judgment, or skill to pull the whole mess out of the fire. I find little merit in the idea, and I don’t believe it to be a prudent method to alleviate the manpower shortage at this point.
There are any number of analogies I could use, but the one that comes to mind would be flying.
U.S. Airways had the good fortune of having a pilot and co-pilot with almost 40,000 hours of combined flight time at the controls of Flight 1549 last month. In the interviews that followed that incredible event, both Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Co-pilot Jeff Skiles had each said that neither of them had ever suffered a double engine failure except in simulator-training. That training and their experience prepared them for the day when it might happen. But consider that if they had never trained for it, there would be a very different story surrounding that flight, 155 different stories. Sully went on to say in subsequent interviews how the sum total of his years of experience coalesced at the precise moment he needed it. It was there to draw upon.
It’s perfectly reasonable for the T.O.A.R. candidate to climb this hill. Getting to ride all the boats you’ll need to complete your T.O.A.R. is daunting but it’s been done countless times by thousands of others. There are still plenty of conventional tugs available to accomplish the task, it just takes a focused effort that includes a company’s personnel department and a corporate mindset dedicated to training and promoting people when they’re fully qualified.
So if the prospect of working the necessary variety of towing vessels has you thinking it’s too hard, step aside and let those among you who have the guts to keep at it play through. We’re waiting for them.